Catherine Elizabeth McAuley was an Irish catholic sister, who started the religious order of The Sisters of Mercy in 1831. The nobility of teaching religion, as well as literature has been attributed to catholic sisters, as they taught not only to Catholics, but also to Protestants. This was the norm during those times (in 1800’s), due to that education was mostly reserved for parishioners of the Church of Ireland.
Catherine McAuley was born in Dublin, Ireland. She had a sibling named James, who was with her when her parents died. They both came to live with relatives who at the time were Protestants. She became the companion of a wealthy Quaker (Protestant) elderly woman; Ms. Callaghan, who was a distant relative of her mother. For many years she taught religious instructions for the preparation of baptism, (a Christian mandate) to the household servants, and to the village children who weren’t privileged.
When Ms. Callaghan died, Catherine became the sole custodian of her estate. She inherited a sizable fortune and used it to build a house. This is where she and other women who had compassion for the homeless, women and children were able to provide care and an education for. This became a new institution for the care of the needy. During the building time for this new facility, she studied to prepare for her new role; overseer and manager.
In September 24 1827, known to be the feast of Our Lady of Mercy, the new institution for destitute women, orphans, and schools for the poor was inaugurated, and McAuley, with her companions took charge and manage the place.
Her initial idea was to put together a lay corps of Catholic social workers. In 1828, the archbishop allowed the staff of this newly founded institute to take a distinctive garb, to publicly visit the sick. The uniform was a black dress and cape made of the same material, a white collar and a lace cap and veil. In the same year the archbishop asked Miss McAuley to pick a name by which the new community within her institution might be known as, for which she chose “Sisters of Mercy”, a befitting name describing her and her staff works.
She is honored in 5 Irish pound banknote (see below):
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